Lake Gem

Lake Gem

From the water, I see a pale leg-tepee on the far shore. 

It might be a woman lying on her back, knees bent, or it could be a patch of exposed tree bark. I’m not sure which, from my vantage point in the kayak. Things have a way of looking different from the water.

But, as I tour the nooks and crannies of the small lake, startling turtles off logs and generously watering my thighs as I paddle, I see it is indeed a woman. Her back is flat against the earth, feet planted and knees touching.

turtle in lake

At the lake’s center, I stop paddling {skewing the results of the GPS-enabled workout app keeping track of my pace and distance} and lean back, looking up at the blue sky streaked with clouds. I let my gaze wander down to the end of the lake where the fishermen gather on a grassy knoll.  There, clouds hang low and dramatic, stretched thin and long, shaded with darker grey. They look painted like a stage backdrop, the sky depicted skillfully, if a bit heavy-handed with light and shadow. 

branch lake

As I float aimlessly, I notice him now — a stocky man in a royal blue tank sitting still atop a picnic table on the shore to my right. He doesn’t move.

We three — sit, lay, float — a triangle of tranquility.

I am impressed by their skill at being still. Their commitment to inactivity. Their choice to be small and let quiet overtake them.

I am working hard to convince myself this lake date is not about a workout. I’m struggling with a notion that honors the opposite of motion.

heron lake

How obvious, I think, that God is big and we are small. Yet, do we experience life this way?

How often do we take time to be still and recall small?

My life has become huge. My problems, my worries, my to-do list. Simply enormous. God is a tiny tickle in the back of my mind, a quick prayer for safety while driving, a rushed morning devotional.

My need to manage our busy life (with three kids — 5, 10, and 12) has grown to gigantic proportions. I have gotten into the self-indulgent habit of magnifying everything, from my dissatisfaction with my messy closets to my frustration with my aging physique. Nothing is good enough for me.

lake view

But, this quiet morning on the water, I hear dogs barking on the distant shore and a hint of traffic noise even farther off. As I stare at my still companions on the shore, I recognize with a sudden and sharp clarity we are at the center of something far larger, and it is beautiful.

kayak lake 2

For a heart-stopping moment, my view zooms out incrementally, from the lake to the hills to the surrounding town and region. There is concrete around us and stores and roads and busy people leading their rushing lives, but we … we three are tucked into an Eden moment.

We three are consciously still players in an impossibly serene pastoral scene, the lake an opal ringed by layers of pine-and-maple-green emerald, the moody sky graduated blue textured with dusky clouds.

We are held, gemlike, perfect and tiny, in the palm of this world … and in the even larger hands of its Creator.

Lord, though we are faced daily with myriad demands in our hectic modern world, please help us pause and remember You. Though we know in our minds that you are larger than our petty day-to-day worries, infuse this truth into our hearts so that we may walk today with our shoulders lifted and heads high, confident in Your ability and secure in Your peace. Amen.


Letting Children Play with Fire… and Knives Too

Letting Children Play with Fire… and Knives Too

In an amazingly wild patch of more than 2,000 wooded acres smack in the middle of a city suburb, the girls gather. Clad in bermuda-length shorts, baggy tees, knee socks, and bandanas, they’ve been sunscreened and bug-sprayed at home and are ready for six hours in the woods. Each girl lugs along her own Sit-A-Can, a five-gallon plastic bucket with a lid that contains a mess kit, water bottle, rain poncho, and an extra pair of shoes and socks.

My girls, 9 and 11, joined about 60 others earlier this month for Girl Scout day camp.

To be honest, this camp wasn’t even on our radar, but a friend of a friend told us, and the theme clinched it– “Muggle Mania.” (For the uninitiated, “muggle” is Harry Potter-speak for non-magical folk.) HP is just about my girls’ favorite thing in the world right now, having both finished the entire 7-book series recently.

So, we sign up, and I try not to worry too much over the heat and exertion for my 9-year-old, whose autoimmune disease worsens in the sun. I write lots of cautionary and explanatory notes on the registration form, and I drop them off, bright and early Monday morning, hoping for the best.

My girls come home with rave reviews, but it’s not until I volunteer for a full day on Wednesday that I really get it: They let children work with fire, and knives too.

They make “camps” in the woods that act as each of the four groups’ home bases (making the very reasonable assumption that poison ivy and ticks, while unpleasant, are a part of life and we need to deal).

They allow the girls to plan their own lunch menus and give them a full two hours to start the fire, prep the food, eat, and clean up. (And, yes, for the older groups, this involves using real knives to chop veggies.)

They do low-tech things like a basic scavenger hunt that allows the girls plenty of free time to really explore the wooded beauty of the large grove.

Sure, it’s done with plenty of adult supervision, lots of teen aides, and the ever-present team of leaders and moms nearby. But, they don’t hover. They don’t micro-manage. They don’t let their fear of what could happen make them so hyper-vigilant that they drain out every bit of fun.

I find that what this camp does so well is provide three simple things in abundance:

  • Green space
  • Free time
  • Independence

I smile at the old-fashioned simplicity of it all. This is what our children need. This is what they crave.

But, this is also what we schedule out of their lives. This is what we eliminate out of fear. This is what we do for them {instead of letting them learn it themselves, doing it slowly or poorly until we allow them the time to practice and get better}.

Fun things, real things, things that stretch us, things that teach us — they involve a willingness to let go of our clinging fear of the worst-case scenario.

I’m working on re-learning this truth in my life and hoping to teach my kids it too.

Where are you finding old-fashioned simplicity this summer? In what ways do you incorporate green space, free time, and independence into your kids’ lives?

Everything Green

Everything Green

Everyone’s at the pond. Dad’s dumping load after load of mulch on the path from the new privy to the cabin. My husband’s helping. Caroline has just decided to fish. Mimi is in the cabin with Adam.

Then, I realize not everyone’s at the pond. Julianne is back at the house, in bed. She is feeling exhausted and weak — again. I tell everyone I’m walking back to check on her.

After I struggle up the steep hill {even half-marathon runners get a little out of breath sometimes!}, the sun blossoms brilliant over the little rutted, clay-and-grass road that leads back to my childhood home.

And, I’m walking, moving through the day. I hear rich glade warbles and feel luxurious sun. A breeze, gentler now, lifts my shorn hair. I am completely at ease. My limbs hang long and loose by my side. My mind has narrowed to a tiny point of consciousness — closing out everything but this moment.

farm pathI hear the swish of grass against my sneakers. I never knew the simple sound of shoes against earth could echo perfection.

I tilt my chin to the sun, so bright, and drink it in. How I love the way it lacquers every new green leaf on the ground and in the sky — painting a fresh shine everywhere!

As my feet hit the road, grass-swishes turn to gravel-crunches, and they, too, sound beautiful. My senses have been honed, my focus as precise, as exquisitely sharp as a silvery pin tip.

As I pass the blueberry patch by the Little House and see gnarls of barbed wire twisted round ancient grayed wood, I feel unexplained joy in this moment. My burgeoning heart whispers: Lovely.

farm pic

A few nights ago, I felt a twinge inside, a sweet promise straight to the marrow of me. I sensed there’s beauty in this breaking. I sensed that as He reassembled me, I could become more whole than I have ever been.

After I’ve brushed the golden hair from her forehead and kissed it, slid a curtain over the sunny window behind her bed, I head back out. {Pa-Pa’s here now should she need anything.}

As I walk, I pause at the top of the hill overlooking the pond and wave to Caroline and Mimi, on the dock. They’re gutting four Blue Gills for tonight’s dinner. {Caroline likes to think she’s Survivorman.}

“I’m heading to the Back Field,” I yell, and my dog Jasper tears ahead of me like a maniac, betraying his city roots with rookie over-enthusiasm.

By the time I duck into the woods by the little caves, it begins to rain. Here, the trees create a canopy far overhead and the drops don’t even touch me, though I hear their soft falling. I find a perch amid silvery tree roots and sit on the hillside, arms hugging my knees.

I look at the small, dark caverns, framed by mossed rocks, but I’m not going down today. Caroline was convinced she saw a bobcat footprint in one of these mini-caves. Who am I to say yay or nay? I squint in that direction to see if I make out any movement and find none {though, personally, I wouldn’t mind catching a bobcat glimpse}.

I smile as I realize that this is my Mysterious Disappearance.

I used to disappear with regularity in these meadows, lanes, and woods — first as a child, then a teen, then a young adult. Here in the green, I felt my senses quicken and my mind sharpen. Here I dreamed; here I created stories; here, I drank in solitude by the hour-full, greedy and deep.

Just yesterday, I’m texting a friend — she hopes I’ll have some time to myself this weekend, but I tell her pragmatically that it’s hard to find time alone as part of a family of five.

She says: “Not if you run off in the woods by yourself.”

I reply: “I like that …. a Mysterious Disappearance!”

And, so it is.

And, I’m walking again, moving back to the path, which now curves slightly upward into more woods. White dogwood petals are strewn under foot. They layer the ground ahead thickly, the lane recalling a wedding aisle strewn with rose petals.

I pick one up, finger its creamy softness, let my thumb and forefinger linger in the curved, blackened divot. My heart whispers: The grave is empty.

I, who have long believed in resurrection — now, I see it. It’s here, in my palm. Like Peter, I finger the nail marks, and I know that these are wounds that heal.

Everywhere green rises from ground, emerald from brown, and the promise beats within me: I could emerge from this shattering … Complete. Comfortable. Capable. Free.


Late Color

Late Color

The maple in the backyard has exceeded expectations.

The other trees flamed early and subsided in fabulous crunches of gold. But, this late changer — she held her color. In fact, we began to think she’d never turn. We assumed her dull.

Now, in mid-November, our hillsides hold interweavings of branch — finely textured tapestries of brown on brown — with the occasional shaft of sycamore white. Some rich oak leaves still cling. They catch the crisp chill sun, offer their elegant, lacquered, nut-brown gleam.

But, She.

autumn glory 2

Our autumn glory, a sentinel of scarlet.

All the more treasured for her impeccable timing.

singular spire in our landscape, a heart-catch of glory each morning, positioned directly outside our bathroom window upstairs, and our kitchen window downstairs.

She’s holding her leaves longer than her earlier relations, and we awake to her beauty fresh each day — an “oh” of loveliness that  always delights.

My husband’s loaded the feeders again, a small cylinder in autumn glory and a larger wooden feeder and two-ear corn holder in the neighboring maple. Bushy-tailed gray squirrels and bold blue jays arrive daily. Cardinals flash in, their twin red moving along with the scarlet brilliance of the slowly falling leaves.

I’ve been fingering worries like creek-stones in my pockets. Though I’ve been savoring peace and joy after a season of transient sadness, I can’t help but question if I shouldn’t be Doing More or Better.

autumn glory 3

Stillness is a radical calling in this frantic world.

This morning, I let the dart of red and blue take my vision, feed it with pure, saturated color. I give my cluttered mind and heart over to the busy activity and let God’s creatures carry my to-do’s and should-do’s and spool them out into nothing.

I rise from my window-side seat, heart renewed, mind quieted, soul dripping with color.